Cost and Availability are Deciding Factors for New Technology
By S. Gene Kimura, GE Corporate Research & Development
natural gas. Also, natural gas is not available in many areas of the world, and importing liquid natural gas is expensive.
Higher gas turbine efficiencies also support the growth of IGCC. Using commercial advanced gas turbines, IGCC plants can operate today with efficiencies in the mid-40 percent range, and this technology should be reaching the high-40s with the next generation of gas turbines. Improvements in the gasification system–with technologies such as hot gas cleanup–will contribute to the gains in overall efficiency.
The venerable steam turbine also is being improved. At GE, we have been able to improve steam turbine efficiency more than 2 percent employing advanced design tools such as computational fluid dynamics (CFDs) to optimize turbine design. These techniques also are being applied to gas turbines. Advanced design tools also are improving engineering productivity. Turbine manufacturers face increasing pressure to reduce engineering and development costs, using tools like CFDs and integrating them with conventional gas turbine component design systems.
The cost of running a power plant will become even more important in the future as power plant operators face growing competition and other economic pressures. Life-cycle cost–fuel, parts, service and maintenance–is increasing in importance. Another major factor is reliability, especially with advanced machines coming into the market.
Also, one of the biggest issues facing the industry, both today and in the future, is the impact of power plants on the environment. Emissions regulations will become tighter all over the world. This drives the development of low-emission combustion systems and high efficiency.
Today`s gas turbines using advanced combustion systems can achieve single-digit levels of nitrogen oxides. The continuing challenge is how to maintain such low emissions in the face of the increased firing tempera-tures required to reach even higher efficiency levels.
We expect fossil plants to continue as the largest source of energy worldwide, although nuclear and hydro plants continue to be viable options in many parts of the world. Other technologies such as fuel cells, biomass, solar and windpower also show potential but seem best suited for niche markets, at least in the foreseeable future.
The history of power generation has been evolutionary. The last revolutionary development was the gas turbine half a century ago. We don`t see any technology breakthrough of that magnitude on the horizon as we prepare to enter the 21st century.
Gene Kimura joined the GE Research and Development Center in 1967. In 1971, he transferred to GE`s medical systems business to work in a venture involving oxygen enrichment membranes. Kimura returned to the R&D Center in 1974. While with the R&D Center, Kimura has performed research in chemical engineering gas separations, gas treatment and emissions control, and since his return in 1974, has held various positions in research management. He spent 1982 and 1983 at the National Science Foundation as a visiting program director. Kimura assumed his current position, Mechanical Systems Laboratory manager, in 1993.
Kimura received a bachelor`s degree in chemical engineering from the University of California in 1964 and a master`s degree in the same discipline from Pennsylvania State University in 1967.